Every year again I eagerly await that insane and utterly complete yearly rundown that happens over at Fast ‘N Bulbous. Usually somewhere around the second week of December the honorable Tony van Dorston publishes his Fester’s Lucky 13 post on Fast ‘N Bulbous. A massive post and rundown of everything the year had to offer. He’s been doing that since 1997 and we’ve been following along since around 2008 or 2009; but obviously even more so since he joined the Doom Charts in 2013 when it all got started. Tony listens to it all, absorbs the music and inflates to gigantic round and swollen proportions with all the musical knowledge. Best of wishes to Tony ‘Fast ‘n Bulbous’ van Dorston; and may you keep doing that rundown for the rest of time!
Last year I said The All Is One, the final album in the Gullvåg trilogy, their sixth double album, was possibly their best. Then again, maybe Kingdom of Oblivion another double album, is even better. It’s hard to say, they’re all great, and Motorpsycho are on a steamroll.
It seems the wagons have been circling for years, trying to isolate and starve out satisfying, driving hard rock. There’s a healthy underground network of blogs and sites that focus on sub-genres like stoner/doom/psych/prog, and all the kinds of extreme metal. But a band like Norway’s Spidergawd can get overlooked. They may sometimes get a nod from the psych/prog fans having previously shared a member with Motorpsycho, but they’re not mainstream enough to get on the radar of some of the middle-aged rock fans, or the odd Swedish AOR scene, which saw a surge of recent releases by W.E.T., Eclipse, Crazy Lixx, Nestor, Cruzh and Seventh Crystal. They’re missing out — Spidergawd are the cream of this year’s crop of top quality hard rock that is not overproduced like so many are, including The Vintage Caravan, Dunbarrow, Lucifer and Khirki, and haven’t written a dud song on any of their six albums.
There’s no shortage of progressive psych bands that mess with occult rock, but every now and then one bubbles to the top of the cauldron and I take notice. Rooted in the likes of Deep Purple, Wishbone Ash and Blue Oyster Cult, Glasgow, Scotland’s Lucid Sins self-released their debut Occultation in 2014. The seven years spent on its follow-up were well spent, as the riffs and melodies evoke early Witchcraft, but with more meticulous arrangements and studio know-how, not to mention more nimble musicianship, including some jazz chops. Organs and strings flesh out the atmospheric tunes, creating a darkly moody, but also beautiful sound matching up perfectly with the cover art by early 20th century illustrator Alan Odle.
Bendigo, Australia’s Jack Harlon & The Dead Crows‘ second full length album turns up on the volume and noise from their garage blues punk noir of Hymns (Suspect/Pirate Press, 2018), making them sound more like the noise rock of Lubricated Goat than the Scientists. They maintain an element of slow and low desert psych, but the menacing guns, peyote and decomposing bodies lurch now leans toward sludge metal and stoner doom, something there’s no shortage of.
Many may have heard of Glass Hammer as the band that vocalist Jon Davison came from before he joined Yes in 2012. The Chattanooga, TN band have been releasing symphonic prog albums since 1993, but they arguably leveled up creatively during the pandemic with their 20th album, Dreaming City (2020), and the addition of vocalist Hannah Pryor. Skallagrim: Into the Breach is their second installment of a trilogy where the titular character has lost his girl and his memory, found a sword, and goes to war. To match the story, the band has introduced a fatter, fuzzier sound inspired more along the lines of stoner doom than their usual lush progressive sounds. The middle of the album adds more variety of three adventurous instrumental tracks that range from jazz fusion to menacing horror soundtrack along the lines of Italian band Goblin. The longest track, “Hyperborea,” is an epic tribute to early Rush. Co-founder Steve Babb also wrote a 400 page sword & sorcery novel that fleshes out this storyline. Skallagrim – In The Vales Of Pagarna will be released early next year.
When Black Sabbath topped the album charts for the first and only time with 13, it was fun to think about the possibility of doom metal crossing over into mainstream pop. It’s pretty unlikely, but stranger things have happened. A lot of pop artists attempt to tackle dark subject matter, whether it be tragic death, depression, or a divorce, and struggle to communicate the weight with their inherently easily digestible music. Case in point, last week Adele released her fourth album, 30. It showed her getting even better as a singer, but she seemed to be unsatisfied with her music achieving sufficient emotional impact, because she supplemented it with these casual spoken word snippets to help express what she’s feeling. I consider that cheating. Adele is a musician, and if she wants to write a memoir, she should feel free, but on her album, if she can’t fully express herself with her music, then she’s failing. But imagine if she collaborated with a doom band like Pallbearer, 40 Watt Sun or Electric Wizard? That could be, well, awkward, or friggin’ amazeballs.
Released the same day as Adele’s 30, Khemmis also released their fourth album with Deceiver. And like Adele, they reckon with heavy life events and the accompanying dark emotions, but with more majestic riffs. Loosely grouped with a new wave of American doom bands like Pallbearer, Magic Circle and Spirit Adrift, Khemmis were recognized as taking a fresh approach to the genre by blending elements of traditional and epic metal, sludge and blackened death metal. Fans often consider second album Hunted (2016) as their apex, and I think that’s still the case. That doesn’t mean the band hasn’t stopped evolving and improving in certain respects. Their twin guitar showcases are on point, and the vocal melodies and harmonies are stickier than ever. I’m not really a fan of Ben Hutcherson’s harsh screams, but much like peak early 00’s era Opeth, it’s a necessary evil that does provide useful variety and contrast. Overall Deceiver is a successful, satisfying album. But if they want to try something new in the future, Phil Pendergrast could always try harmonizing with another guest vocalist. Maybe they should give Adele a call…
It’s hard to believe that it’s been seventeen years since Witchcraft released their debut album in 2004, mixing doomy Sabbath worship with early Pentagram and other proto-metal when no one else did. That soon changed and the 2010s saw the release of at least 100 good to great proto-metal albums, peaking in 2012-13 with Witchcraft’s Legend, Troubled Horse, Hidden Masters, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Golden Void, Wolf People, Purson, Blood Ceremony, Avatarium and Brimstone Coven. Trondheim, Norway’s Dunbarrow were a welcome addition when they debuted in 2016 with a well executed sound that starts with Witchcraft and also draws on the likes of Cream, Uriah Heep and more obscure but swingin’ blues rock and proto-metal from Leafhound and Toad. The creamy guitar tones and hooky vocal melodies are strong as ever, and the band is stretching outward into subtly more progressive territories with an assist from Auver Gaaren on keys and mellotron on opener “Death That Never Dies” and Steeleye Span-style prog folk on “Turn In Your Grave.” Dunbarrow are rubbing elbows with the masters now, ensuring this fairly specialized subgenre continues to flourish into the decade.
One of the coolest collaborations to come out of the pandemic, durling Berlin’s endless cold winter, Kadavar and American expatriates Elder got together and explored more spacey, jammy territory than they normally would have done with their respective bands. Possibly Elder inspired the usually harder rocking Kadavar to explore their proggier roots. The results take a bit to unfold, but when they do, it’s breathtaking.
This Finnish seven-piece group has been on the front line of the psych noir renaissance since 2012 alongside The Devil’s Blood, Blood Ceremony, Purson, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats and Mansion. This is their fourth album, along with two fairly ambitious, proggy EPs, and a side project, The Exploding Eyes Orchestra. Of all the bands exploring the occult doom psych territory, JATO is probably the next most consistently melodic and accessible after Purson/Rosalie Cunningham. But instead of the Beatles, their roots lean more toward American west coast bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Doors, with Jess’s vocals an urgent siren on top like a turbo-charged Ann Wilson (Heart). Their progressive elements are shown full flower with the 11:34 closing epic “Strange Earth Illusion,” with Deep Purple/ELP organs and nice guitar solos from the Thomases (Corpse and Fiend).
It’s a good sign that a band is at their peak when they release their fourth album just a year after their last one. If they are writing songs faster than they can record and release them, the creative juices are flowing full force, thanks to Joanna Sardonis’ partnership with Nicke Andersson (Entombed, Hellacopters). While there’s no departure from the hooky hard rock and spooky occult psych noir of their previous albums, the songwriting is getting increasingly polished and accomplished. The hard working band has been rewarded with increasingly wide attention and exposure. You know they’re crossing over into more mainstream territory when reviewers are wringing their hands that the band’s name is too edgy. For real! 51 years after a band named themselves Lucifer’s Friend, and 40 since NWOBHM Satan congregated on Newcastle upon Tyne, people are still frightened by these extremely tame names? Were there problems with the wildly popular network TV show Lucifer, inspired by a Neil Gaiman comic? Perhaps in this stupid, stupid world completely lacking in wit and humor, this band is indeed too “evil” for the mainstream. Just this year there were also solid metal albums released by Lucifer’s Fall and Lucifer’s Hammer. Nevertheless, they killed it their showcase at Psycho Las Vegas, and once touring can get back up to speed, they should be able to draw at least the kind of audiences of Ghost and Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats. But someday all these idiots should be hunted down by the sexy demon Mazikeen, lightly tortured, enslaved and forced to worship at the hooved feet of Lucifer.
While I first discovered this band with Sorcerer (2017), they’ve been around for a decade previously, putting out a bunch of lo-fi psych pop and space rock jams. Their latest is something special, adding some tasty kosmische and a warmer, more alluring production sound.
Late in the year, on December 3, a trio of great albums were released, and it sparked a lot of debate amongst the Doom Charts community which was best — the Eldovar collaboration, King Buffalo or Weedpecker. I’ve gone back and forth, but at the time, the Polish band’s fourth album clinched it for me — while it may not has quite as cohesive a groove as King Buffalo, I’m drawn in to their expanded variety of sounds, and I can’t resist the Elder influence, even as they forge forward in developing their own sound.